Vanish into thin air Introduction
I’m the Clown. I’m Othello’s servant and I like to make puns to show people how smart I am. And you know what I think?
If you have any music that may not be heard, to't
again: but, as they say to hear music the general
does not greatly care.
We have none such, sir.
Then put up your pipes in your bag, for I'll away:
go; vanish into air; away! (3.1.15-20)
Who Said It and Where
The clown in Othello isn’t as straight up funny as other clowns you might find in Shakespeare. Sure, he’s got humor, but he’s not the laugh-out-loud, clutch-your-stomach-because-it-hurts, tears-in-your-eyes funny that we usually think of. Instead, he likes to play around with people’s words in order to show the darker sides of human nature.
He always goes right for the sordid and twisty meanings of words, spinning them around and spitting them back out as something gloomier (but more accurate) than the character originally meant.
An example? He plays with the word lie when other characters are lying or honestto show how misguided the use of that word is in this play. Since Othello repeatedly describes Iago at honest, even though he is just about the most deceitful person we’ve ever met, it makes for some witty word play for the audience to enjoy.
But we wouldn’t really call that hilarious, now would we? We do know that he only has about a dozen lines or so in the play, and most of them are spent on punning. Maybe he gives us just enough of a reprieve before things get really dark. The two times he appears it’s before something big is about to happen, and usually, his punny words, while a wee bit funny, serve more to foreshadow what's about to go down.
So when he shows up in this scene, we know it’s big. Really big. A disgruntled soldier named Cassio has sent some musicians to play for Othello in hopes of winning back Othello’s good favor. Cassio is eager to please, but the problem is, the musicians aren’t any good. Othello sends his clown out to ask the players why their instruments sound so nasal.
The clown dismisses the musicians, and Cassio asks him if Desdemona is up yet. He wants to get back in good with Othello and thinks he can do that through Othello’s wife, Desdemona. But Iago has other plans. You’ll have to read the play or our learning guide to find out what happens with Cassio and Desdemona.
We can tell you that the clown’s role in this scene is more than it seems. Much, much more.